More In Formation
I'm new to MWSA membership. I've just finished a memoir of my career in the Air Force, 1980 - 2000. Yeah, I'm a Cold War baby, a woman, and a retired support officer. So what I have to say isn't similar to many of the military memoirs today. I wrote In Formation: What the Air Force Taught Me about Holding On and Manning Up because I recognized that even without battles, the military demands courage, of all types. I'm still looking at options regarding publication, but in the meantime I've started a blog. This was my first entry:
Why In Formation? One day, I’m watching Jeopardy! The category is “Ascending Order.” The clue reads simply, “Lieutenant, captain, then this rank.” The bright college student from Yale rings in quickly, then stares aghast at the clue. Finally he bursts out, “Private! What is private?” The other two Ivy Leaguers don’t even ring in, just stare at the question blankly. In the meantime, I’m yelling at the TV, “Major! Major, you idiots! This is not hard. It’s only the $100 clue, for Pete’s sake.”
These three students are among America’s best and brightest. They can answer questions about quantum physics and Greek drama but don’t know the most basic rank structure, not even the difference between an officer and an enlisted member. They are not unusual. The military makes up just one percent of this country nowadays. The ninety-nine percent honors them with discounts at grocery stores, free visits to national parks, the occasional parade. They say, “Thank you for your service” and move on. They know nothing else to say. They like to read about war and watch movies about it, as if it’s another video game. Wars are something other people fight. So, okay, let’s show we’re strong. Let’s send in the military. Then let’s go to a movie, maybe some shopping.
My father and uncles fought in World War II, all Navy (an odd choice I always thought for Appalachian mountain men). But afterwards, the family joined the majority of Americas in firmly civilianizing themselves. By the time I was in high school, we had soldiers in Vietnam and protests at home. I came down firmly on the side of the protesters. We despised not only the war but the military who were dying and killing in that far away country. There was a draft then. In my college—where no recruiters or ROTC programs were allowed—I listened to my male classmates go over their plans to avoid the draft after graduation. None of it really affected me. I knew no one in the military except a couple of cousins I seldom saw.
I’ve never been sure what led me to an Air Force recruiter in 1979, except that I had no other option that appealed to me at the time. I was 28, overweight, under-exercised, an introvert, a wimp. So I know what it’s like to be both abysmally ignorant of the military as well as knowledgeable and informed. When I was twenty, I probably wouldn’t have come up with “What is major?” either. (Though I like to think I wouldn’t have blurted out “private.”)
In Formation is a book about that quintessential military virtue, courage, even when bullets are not flying nor IEDs blowing up. This blog contains the stories that had to be cut from the book, just to keep an account of twenty years down to a readable level. Happy reading.
If you like this, please have a look at my blog, www.cheryldietrich.net.